Friday, 28 December 2012

A Concord Christmas

For the past three years, Christmas on Canvey Island has been the time of year when something special happens, the two non league football clubs meet for the first of their two derby games during the season. Ever since Concord Rangers were promoted to the Ryman League Premier these games have led to countless discussions & banter between the two clubs & their fans. Rarely do the matches disappoint either.
Prior to this Boxing Day four matches had taken place between the two sides, with the Beachboys coming out on top 3 times to Canveys 1. However the higher final league position has fallen to the Gulls in both previous years. Given that the last game was the Canvey win at Thames Road, & the fact that Concord were coming off a 6-3 demolition the week before, Canvey should have had some confidence, their fans certainly did when I spoke to some before the game.

The match was on at 3pm Boxing Day, mainly thanks to the hard work of the staff, players & committee who spent most of Xmas Eve & Boxing Day morning working on the pitch. The rain came as soon as the game started though, but some decent roller work at half time ensured the game would go through to 90 minutes.

I won't go into too much detail on the game, but it was all Concord from the get go. The Beachboys wanted this so much more than their local rivals, as has been the case in most of these encounters, and it showed as Harry Elmes put Concord in front early on. His close range shot took a deflection off former Beachboy Ashley Miller & left the Canvey keeper with no hope of saving it. Harry was back on the scoresheet soon afterwards as he powered in a rebound from a couple of yards out. Obviously this sent myself & the rest of the Concord fans into a frenzy, but it was but short soon after as Nicky Cowley was sent off for a rash challenge.
Canvey attempted to get back into the game with the man advantage, but the Concord defence proved too strong as they saw out the first half. As for the second half, not much to say really! Canvey never really looked dangerous going forward, especially with some of their players displaying a distinct lack of effort. This didn't bother me though, Concord, even with a man down, continued to make space & create chances. One of which paid off with 4 minutes to play as James White slammed the ball home to make it 3-0.

(picture courtesy of Mikey Cartwright)

The game was over, the Beachboys fans were singing loud and proud, Canvey fans looked sullen & disappointed, as did their players, so bragging rights once again fell to Concord Rangers. The result was a sweet one for us, coming back from a loss last week in such emphatic style with just 10 men for the majority of the game against our main local rivals. Everyone involved with Concord Rangers should be extremely proud of the lads performance that day, it's a result that made many a Beachboy Christmas!

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

The rise & rise of Non League

Football as a sport has been around for generations, the majority of fans follow teams in the professional leagues, but the "non-league" set up below has been slowly developing teams & players for all that time.

For the past 3 years my interest and involvement in non-league has grown immeasurably and with that I've been able to see first hand how the sport at this level has grown in popularity across the country. I also appreciate the set-up of non-league, it's differences to the pro game and the effort, drive & passion that goes into it at this level. When i first saw non-league games as a young child, it was just football, it was all the same to me, but I realise & appreciate that it's not.

That's no bad thing, don't get me wrong! But the way I see it in my head is almost as a different sport to the top flights, and i follow Concord Rangers with as much emotion & passion as i do West Ham.
Basically non-league football is the game in leagues outside the four top divisions in the English game, from the Blue Square Bet Premier, then through various regional divisions 3, 4 or even 5 steps further down. The popularity of these leagues, and the games within them, seems to be increasing quicker by the month, and for me i feel it's because of a couple of main reasons.

The first is exposure, quite simply the game at this level is getting so much more coverage in the mainstream media, for example local papers feature large double page spreads to the number of teams in their areas. Social media has also played a part in this, look for 5 minutes on Facebook or Twitter and you'll find fan pages & accounts dedicated to these clubs, all full of passionate supporters willing to follow their club! Not just social media, but blogs such as this one, the UnderTheLeague.com website, and plenty more besides offer thoughts, opinions and coverage of the game. Add to that the ever faithful Non League Paper and you see how the exposure continues to grow.

The success of non-league teams in national cup competitions also plays a big part in how the game is seen. The FA Cup can offer very small clubs the chance to make it to a big stage, none more recent than Ryman League team Hastings having an away match against Middlesborough in the 3rd round! These smaller clubs are getting better investment, even in this tough climate, as entry prices are lower more fans attend, which boosts the funds at the club & in turn helps them move forward. The playing talent at this level is always improving too, former league players who just missed out can be found across the country plying their trade at this level, competition for places increases because of it.

Of course, one huge reason why the focus on non league has increased was with the creation of "Non League Day" a few years back. Normally a day during October when the top flight are on an international break, this is a day where the focus is on going to see and cheer on your local non-league team. The day is widely promoted & has grown more and more each year. Obviously there's massive benefits to seeing these local games, cost is one, atmosphere is another, being able to stand there with a beer right on the sideline is something that can be enjoyed at this level! Add to that the fact that although the players are paid (not much at all) they are there for the love of the game, and it's there for all to see at every game.

I am a convert, without doubt, the past 3 years have helped make an unbreakable bond with the sport at this level. It's something i love being a part of, and with how things are going I know i will not be the only one!

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Welcome to Concord Island!

Some of you may remember I recently wrote about a kind of home game hoodoo that concord Rangers were suffering from? The team had not won at home in the league, and when away from home the team were playing with more freedom to pick up the victories. I remember asking what the problem was, and hoping that it was overcome very soon! Well I didn’t have to wait too much longer to see my wish come true! The first game after my last article was actually a home game in the FA Trophy Qualifying, and that day saw the Beachboys fall 0-2 against follow Ryman League side Enfield Town, but thankfully that was the last loss that Concord have suffered since then!

November has been a month of victories for Concord Rangers, and even more so a month of goals, but I’ll come to that shortly. Saturday 3rd November saw the Beachboys have a tough trip to Harrow Borough in the league, and on a personal note I was hoping for 3 points as it was my birthday that day (selfish I know). Concord took the lead early in the 2nd half through a Nicky Cowley header after a scrappy yet uneventful first half. Harrow fought back & capitalised on a Spendlove mistake to equalise, but Concord were not to be denied another away win when all was said and done. Adetayo Osifuwa took control of a high ball in the Harrow box late on before being bundled over leaving the referee pointing to the spot. Harry Elmes calmly slotted the ball away to earn the Beachboys the full 3 points. The big loss though was when John Easterford put his body on the line to thwart a late Harrow chance; he walked away with a deep cut under his eye and a suspected broken nose.

Then came the run of home games, 4 matches at the Aspect Arena in a row, including an Essex Senior Cup match as well. First up were league leaders Hampton & Richmond, and this was going to prove to be a tough game. The Beachboys though were up for the game with nothing to lose, touted as heavy underdogs. It may not have been the warmest night down Thames Road, but the game warmed me up that’s for sure. 6 minutes in Harry Elmes turned in an uncleared free-kick to make the most of the early pressure Concord were putting on the league leaders. More chances fell to Concord, but the first half ended with the score still 1-0 to the hosts. The second half was dominated by one major highlight courtesy of Reece Harris. Concord won a free kick just outside of the H&R box, Harris stepped up to take it with bundles of confidence, and rightly so as he curled the ball right into the top corner of the goal. The Beachboys were over the moon, as was the home support, at the prospect of picking up their first home win of the season. The Beavers grabbed a late consolation goal, but Concord were not to be denied!

That was a huge win for the club against a newly promoted team who were flying high in the league, and it prompted a run of games which have instilled a new confidence into the team, a deeper sense of belief, and a realisation that the hard work the lads have put it is paying off.

I mentioned November was also a month of goals, and it really kicked into gear the Saturday after the Hampton & Richmond game as Concord took on Carshalton Athletic in a rearranged league match. I could go through all the details but there were so many things happening it was tough to keep up! Concord Rangers played a belter of a game, winning 6-3 on the day! The goals continued to flow the following Tuesday at home to Takeley in the Essex Senior Cup. This game came about after original opponents Aveley fielded an ineligible player in the last round, but Takeley couldn’t make the most of their reinstatement to the competition on the night. The Beachboys dominated the game, winning 8-2 at the Aspect Arena with Jason Hallett scoring 7 goals!

If supporters thought that was as good as it gets, things continued to get better for the Beachboys as they hosted Met Police this past Saturday in the league, coming up against former player Chris Bourne. Although Met Police took an early 1-0 lead, Concord were determined to continue their good run of form and fought back to win 5-1 on the day. Tony Stokes knocked in a hat trick, culminating in a spectacular overhead kick which reminded fans of the goal Zlatan Ibrahimovic had scored for Sweden against England midweek. Jason Hallett had started that game on the bench after his goal-fest midweek, and that must have lit a fire underneath him as he came out firing again this past Tuesday night. Concord were drawn away to Redbridge in the Ryman League Cup, and I honestly can’t do this score line justice with words, the Beachboys won 9-0. This included a double hat-trick for Jason Hallett (13 goals in 2 starts), 2 for Tony Stokes, and a first senior goal for Sammy Knott, a great young prospect at Concord who has just returned from a long-term injury.

So things are on the up for Concord Rangers, some fantastic victories coming their way as a result of a lot of hard work and perseverance. The club are 7th in the league, 4 points above the noisy neighbours, and are in the draws for the 4th Round of the Ryman League Cup, and the Quarter Finals of the Essex Senior Cup. Yes there’s a lot of football left to be played, but the optimism is high down on Concord Island right now! Maybe we can make Thames Road a fortress again?

YAMC!

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Home Game Hoodoo!

There’s clearly something about the Aspect Arena at the moment, the home of Concord Rangers. Whether it’s the pressure of having the (although small) home crowd watching every move you make, or the fact that teams are coming to Thames Road & playing very differently, something is severely affecting the Beachboys results at home.

First off let’s look at our away form in the league, admittedly the seasons travels started badly with a 4-1 thumping at Lowestoft. But following that the first win of the season came with a 2-1 victory to at Carshalton Athletic, with goals coming from Jason Hallett and Danny Spendlove. One week later Concord picked up a 2-2 draw at Hendon, even after losing Danny Glozier to a late red card. Goals in that match came from James White and Tony Stokes. Tuesday 9th October was the next league away day, this one to high-flyers Margate who were sitting in 2nd place at the time. The Beachboys were 4th from bottom but still ran out deserved 2-0 winners, with both goals being scored by the captain Tony Stokes. Just over a week ago Concord Rangers travelled to Wingate & Finchley, coming away disappointed after squandering a number of chances and only getting a 0-0 draw for their efforts.

So that’s an away league record of 2 wins, 2 draws & a loss. At home we’ve had one less league game due to the various cup competitions, but even so the record does not make for easy reading. The season began with a 3-1 loss at the Aspect Arena to league new boys Bognor Regis Town on a sunny afternoon in August! Not a bright start though I’m sure you’ll agree. Next up at Thames Road was a Monday night game vs. Kingstonian, who are a consistently tough side in the Ryman Premier League. This continued through that Monday night as they won 3-0 against the Beachboys. A draw has been our best result at home in the league this season, which came in heartbreaking circumstances against Wealdstone on 15th September. Harry Elmes gave Concord the lead midway through the first half, before Wealdstone favourite Richard Jolly equalised just after the break. The game was flowing the way of Rangers, and the pressure paid off when Tony Stokes put the Beachboys back in front on 79 minutes. However on the next Wealdstone attack their shot took a massive deflection which sent the ball past Michael Jordan into the Concord net, evening the game up. That’s how it finished, and it felt absolutely gutting at the time, to be honest it still does now, we should have won that game. The most recent home game was against Cray this past weekend; a silly mistake gave Cray the lead in the first half, then Steve King was sent off (wrongly in my unbiased & fair opinion) on the hour before Cray ran out 4-0 winners.

The form at home in the leagues reads as 0 wins, 1 draw and 3 losses (all of the losses saw at least 3 goals conceded). It’s worrying stuff really, especially as away from home we’ve been playing well and getting results. Cup games at home have been different as well, with a win vs. Needham Market & a draw against Conference South club Welling. It’s frustrating for the fans, and I know after speaking to the players & coaches that it’s frustrating for them as well. We’re not playing badly at home, but little mistakes are costing us goals and that needs to be corrected if we’re to make the Aspect Arena a place that teams don’t want to come to!

Concord Rangers have a chance to get back to winning ways at home on Tuesday 6th November as Hampton & Richmond make the journey down to Thames Road. There are 2 cup games (1 home, 1 away) and 1 league game to get through first though, facing Romford, Enfield Town and Harrow Borough. There are no easy games in the Ryman League this season, the calibre of the teams is getting better and the difference between them smaller. It’s tough to call who will finish where this year, and of course there’s a lot of football still to be played. I just hope and look forward to our next home game in the league when we pick up the win we need to get a run going.

You Are My Concord!

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Movember Is Coming!

November is only round the corner, and for me normally that means its time to look forward to getting another year older (birthday is the 3rd November for those that should be getting me gifts!). However this year that isn’t my focus heading up to the month. This year I have decided to do something worthwhile and raise money for charity by taking part in Movember.

Now for those of you that haven’t heard of this before, Movember is a charity initiative which has been responsible for thousands of men growing moustaches during the month of November and raising awareness for men’s health issues, specifically testicular and prostate cancer. How it works is simple, us gents sign up to take part at uk.movember.com, and on November 1st we go completely clean shaven. Sounds easy so far right? Well it doesn’t get any tougher! As the month progresses the Mo Bros (as we will be affectionately known) will grow and groom a moustache, and just a moustache. No beards at all, the ‘tache cannot connect with sideburns (as that is classed as a beard too).  

And essentially that’s it, throughout the month of November the Mo Bros will be walking around advertising the Movember movement. Of course, the key to this being a success is being sponsored and getting people to donate to the cause! Over the next weeks approaching Movember and throughout the month I will be hassling people for sponsorship online through Twitter & Facebook, and of course I will have a sponsor form with me at all times hoping to siphon cash from your pockets for a worthy cause.

There is obviously a reason for me taking part in this, and it’s mainly down to losing family and friends over the past year to different forms of cancer. These were the first times really where I have lost people I really cared about and I could understand what happened, as I guess I (and my family) have been very lucky over the years. I lost my great Nan, an aunt, and my granddad whilst I was very young, so although emotional at the time, you tend to process things differently as a kid. So in a way I plan to do my bit to help, and taking part in Movember is my way of doing that. It also is a bit of a step for me as well, as I have not been clean shaven in 7 years. So the people that I work with, and a fair few friends as well (including my ex) have not really seen me without a beard except for maybe in a couple of old photos. I’m looking forward to it though, should be fun!

There’s no denying that the Movember movement is a successful one, just last year over 854,000 Mo Bros and Mo Sistas around the world got on board, raising GBP 79.3 million. For the record a Mo Sista isn’t a woman growing a moustache (although we all know some that can), the following is taken from the Movember site:
A Mo Sista is essentially a woman who loves a Mo. An individual that is dedicated to supporting the Mo Bros in her life through their moustache growing journey; whether it be a friend, colleague, family member or partner. These inspirational women are committed to raising awareness of men's health issues and much needed funds for men's health along the way.

Thank you for reading this, I will appreciate any and all support that I get for taking part! So before I sign off this blog entry, a few promos! I will be on Twitter as normal going on about this; my account can be found at twitter.com/BullJet. I have also signed up to Instagram, a picture-based network which I will be using to provide daily Mo updates, search for BullJet on there and that’s where you will find me.

Most importantly, if you wish to donate and help me out, my Mo Page can be found at http://mobro.co/alanjessuppeacock

Thanks again, and see you in Movember!

Monday, 24 September 2012

The Magic Of The FA Cup!

For the majority of football fans that follow teams in the leagues above the conference, the FA Cup is a competition that starts in the middle of November (even January for the Premiership & Championship fans) and runs through to the final in May at the end of the season. Little do these league football fans know about the effort that is put in by non-league teams hoping to make the first round proper!

Before the first round is even thought of, there are 6 different qualification rounds of matches! The first preliminary round (Extra Preliminary) takes place way back in August, with teams such as Wootton Bassett Town (beating Calne Town 4-2) and Thrapston Town (beating Cogenhose United 2-0) taking part. This is where many of the dreams and journeys begin for clubs as low as step 7 in the non-league structure. Another Prelim round then takes place in late August still featuring teams from step 7 up to step 4, which hold leagues such as the Sussex County League, Kent Invicta League, and closer to home for me, the Essex Senior League.

Once the Preliminary rounds are complete, in early September the first qualifying round of the FA Cup gets under way. For some teams there may have already been two rounds gone, but including this first one there are 4 qualifying rounds before any club can get into the first round proper of the cup! This round is where my local non-league team enters the competition along with the rest of the step 3 teams from leagues such as the Ryman Premier, Evo Stick North & Evo Stick South leagues. A win in this round gives the team a nice bonus of £3,000, and a spot in the second qualifying round alongside teams from step 2 (Conference North & Conference South). Concord Rangers were handed a home tie against Needham Market in this round, a team who the Beachboys had failed to beat in their past 4 meetings (albeit all away from home). Market had a good start to the season, but failed to keep that run going as Concord ran out comfortable 1-0 winners on the day. Nicky Cowley deservedly earned MOTM honours after a determined performance. Concord were much the better side throughout, with decent passing moves, playing good football, and looking dangerous on the attack. Needham however seemed to rely on a long ball tactic and it just didn’t work for them or their manager (who for all intents and purposes looked to be modelling himself on Stoke gaffer Tony Pulis).

That set up Concords appearance in the 2nd qualifying round draw, where as mentioned previously teams from the next level in the non-league pyramid would be waiting! Another home draw was gained, however as luck would have it, Conference South members Welling were the opponents. A win in the 2nd qualifying round brings in £4,500 for the club and although I wasn’t at the game this past Saturday, Concord earned a deserved 1-1 draw to bring on a replay this Wednesday. Welling were a tough prospect, and will be even more so at home in front of their own fans. Concord have nothing to lose against a team expected to beat them, so I am sure the lads will go out and give it their all.

What lies ahead is a 3rd qualifying round draw at home to Thurrock FC of the Ryman Premier, and the possibility of a £7,500 windfall for the winning club. No new teams enter the cup at this stage, as the field is whittled down to 80 teams (40 matches). If successful, the fourth and final qualifying round beckons, bringing in teams from the Blue Square Bet Conference, the final non-league step before league football. £12,500 and a possible match-up against league opposition await the winners of these matches, as teams from League 1 & League 2 enter the draw for the first round proper. This is the stage when the scalps really start to get noticed, as you could have teams from as low down as step 7 still in there facing off against League 1 opposition!

Most people are familiar with how the rest of the FA Cup works, the teams in both the Championship & Premiership enter the draw for the 3rd round where the big money really starts (£67,500 for a 3rd round win). Then as the rounds go on and teams are beaten, it all comes down to the big FA Cup Final, held at Wembley as the season comes to a close in May. So there you go, the FA Cup doesn’t just start in November, there’s a long way for some clubs to go before they even reach November! Every team dreams of making that big cup run to the final, but only a few lucky ones ever get that far. Even so, it is a wonderful experience being a part of the FA Cup at any level!

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

The NFL is back in business

The NFL season is now two weeks old, so in time honoured tradition i thought it was about time i put my oar in and talk about what I've seen so far around the league. The early weeks are always tough to call as teams are still fresh, not always tight as a unit & the rookies are making their first NFL starts/appearances. Bearing that in mind i think I've personally learned a few things from these two weeks.

First up, my New York Jets are both better and worse than they were in preseason (which to be honest was diabolical). Week 1 the Jets came out and pretty much demolished the Buffalo Bills before the first half was done! Mark Sanchez looked sharper than he had in some time, the WRs were getting open (especially rookie Stephen Hill, who picked up 2 touchdowns), the defence was strong (Cro grabbed a pick-6), and special teams did their bit too (Kerley returned a punt for a TD). Apart from taking the foot off the gas as the game went on, it was a great win for New York, surprising a lot of people in the media.

Week 2? Well that couldn't have been more different. After a solid 1st quarter, the defence struggled to handle anything the Pittsburgh Steelers threw at them, & on offence barely a pass was completed, although for my money that's on the WRs having a huge case of the dropsies. Stupid penalties were given up repeatedly by the defense, Landry being a big culprit, and of course Ben Roethlisberger took advantage of that. As a fan it was a relief when the game ended! Next up are division rivals Miami, who also sit with a 1-1 record, not gonna be easy, but our injury situation should be better (Revis & Keller back)

Next? The rookie battle at Quarterback that everyone was talking about before Tebow went to NY. The top 2 picks of this years NFL draft, Andrew Luck & Robert Griffin III, are going to have very different seasons. Luck was picked by the Colts, the team with the worst record last season & in the process of rebuilding the team. Griffin was picked by the Redskins, a decent all round team looking to make that next step forward.

From what I've seen of Luck over the past 2 weeks of highlights he seems comfortable in the Indianapolis set-up, but just needs a bit more quality around him before he will be leading the Colts to their first playoffs since Peyton left! They fell to a tough Bears side in week 1, but were able to squeeze out a 23-20 victory over the Vikings this past weekend. As i said earlier, the first few weeks will be tough to really read into, but Luck will be in for a long season i feel, in a way though i hope he proves me wrong!

As for RGIII, well he had as tough as test as Luck in week 1, if not even harder as the Skins took on the New Orleans Saints (who in the offseason had the whole "bounty" scandal). To be honest though, Washington didn't need to worry as they made the Saints look like the team with the rookie quarterback! Griffin was accurate, calm, precise, consistent, and had a few good rushing attempts too! Basically that game was his time to show the league what he could do, and he grabbed that chance with both hands. Week 2 was pretty much more of the same performance wise, but just couldn't get the same result as Washington fell to the St Louis Rams 31-28. RGIII didn't have a bad game, and as the season progresses i can't wait to see how both he and Luck do.

Finally I learned that although there's still chinks in the armour after a season out, Peyton Manning can get the job done. Week 1 Manning & the Broncos took on Pittsburgh. Now the Steelers did what they could to eat up the clock & keep the ball away from Manning, it seemed to be working for a bit, but not for long. Peyton went back to his old no huddle offence used so effectively when he was in Indy, & although it wasn't perfect Manning looked surprisingly good, leading Denver on 3 consecutive scoring drives as they beat the Steelers. Week 2 was where we saw Manning display that he isn't quite what he used to be. Denver had to take on a decent Falcons side, and had to face an uphill struggle early as Manning was intercepted 3 times in just the first quarter! The Broncos got back into the game behind Peytons leadership, but still ended up walking away with a loss. My thoughts though are that although Manning isn't at his best, he is still very much a threat to defences across the league & will lead the Broncos to their fair share of victories this season.

Plenty more went on over these two opening weeks of the NFL season, but those were the things that probably stood out for me the most. Well that, and the Patriots losing to Arizona AT HOME in week 2! No doubt about it, this will be one hell of an NFL season!

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Four Games In

The 2012/2013 Ryman Premier League season is around 12 days old, and during the first 10 of those Concord Rangers had a tough set of 4 games. I was lucky enough to be at 2 of them, but to be honest after a solid pre-season I think as a whole we were expecting a lot more from them.

Opening day saw newly promoted Bognor Regis Town make their way to the Aspect Arena, after coming up through the playoffs in the Ryman South last season. It was a beautiful summers day, the sun was shining and spirits were high as football made its long awaited return! Spirits of us Concord fans were dampened though after 23 minutes when ‘keeper Michael Jordan failed to get hold of the ball and allowed Bognors’ Ashley Robinson to score the games opening goal. After a preseason where 6 clean sheets were kept, it was disappointing to see a goal given away so easily. The scores were level though 2 minutes later after Tony Stokes scored from a free kick (which he had originally won). Concord were playing well and the game looked to be swinging back in their favour, however after Danny Spendlove ended up kicking the air instead of the ball in the Bognor box, Regis broke forward and retook the lead thanks to Mu Maan. The second half and both teams were much better at the back, and although Concord were attacking much more, this left them open on the counter and Bognor took advantage to take a 3-1 lead in the 60th minute. And that’s how the game finished, a disappointing result really to start the season, and things didn’t look too great with an away trip to Lowestoft just 3 days away.

Tuesday came and so did the long journey to Lowestoft. I was lucky enough to be on the team coach heading up for the game, and we left just after 16:00. Even with just 2 pickups for the players, we still arrived at around 18:40, a bloody long journey to be honest! The game got under way as darkness approached, and it was barely into the 7th minute when Lowestoft took the lead after some poor defending by the Beachboys. That set the tone of the game really, as the Trawlerboys scored again from a (questionable) free kick to go in 2-0 up at half time. That free kick was given to Lowestoft, but the incident was (from my perspective) James Elmes getting elbowed in the face, then having the ball kicked at him whilst on the floor, and a Lowestoft player raising his hands to Danny Glozier. How this incident went the way of the Trawlerboys I will never know. The second half saw Lowestoft get a third before Jason Hallett finally got the Beachboys on the mark in the 58th minute. Concord tried to get further back into the game, but again it left them open at the back at Lowestoft won the game with a 4th goal in the 85th minute.

Those were the 2 games I was able to see, but due to work commitments I missed out on the following two, so details are fairly sketchy! This past Saturday Concord were away to Carshalton, who have been in the Ryman Premier for the past 6 years. Now last season Carshalton didn’t put a goal past the Beachboys, but this season they have. It was only one though, as Concord won 2-1 after goals from Jason Hallett and Danny Spendlove. Bank Holiday Monday saw Concord host Kingstonian, a tough team that continue to give Ryman Premiership clubs a test both at home and away. They proved to be a pain in the backside rather than just a test for Concord though, as two goals in quick succession during the first half pretty much killed the game off. It seemed to knock the wind out of the Beachboys sails, and Kingstonian eventually came away with a 3-0 victory.

Now this leaves Concord 18th in the Ryman (Isthmian) Premier League, which I think we all can agree is not the start the club were hoping for. However, there are 38 games left (42 if you’re Steve Tilson) and therefore plenty of football yet to be played. Next up for Concord will be an away trip to Hendon this coming Saturday, a win would be just the tonic to get the team back on track, but once again I’ll be unable to go due to work commitments. Needless to say I will be cheering the Beachboys on from afar, and hoping that we can start getting the right results!

You Are My Concord!

Sunday, 12 August 2012

At Last, The League Begins!

So that’s it, preseason football is over and the real stuff, the games that matter, will begin on Saturday 18th August. Now regular readers know that I’ve said my piece on what preseason means to fans, and even though the results don’t matter per say, we still like to see our teams winning! So I wont rehash that again, I’ll just go over the last couple of preseason games at Concord Rangers, and my thoughts on the players I’ve seen, and how things have taken shape down at the Aspect Arena.

Concord were at home to Chesham Utd just 3 days after their 3-0 loss at the hands of Dagenham & Redbridge, and the players responded in the best way possible, with a 1-0 victory and a clean sheet. The same result followed at home to Tonbridge Angels on the Tuesday (31st), showing that Dan Cowley & Glen Alzapiedi have worked hard to get the defence solid and strong ready for a tough season ahead. Next up was a friendly against Southend Utd, well I say Southend Utd, it was their youth team, and boy did it show on the day! I don’t know whether these lads have been treated like stars at Southend, but they certainly couldn’t handle a standard tackle or things not going their way. A number of times words were exchanged and petty arguments seem to appear because Utd were not happy about a game of football! Concords experience shone through, dominating the first half and although taking it easier in the second, managed to walk away with a clean sheet & a 2-0 win. The Southend kids were not a good representation of the professional club, and that was disappointing for me really, I thought even as kids they would have a bit more respect for the game and their fellow players, but it was not to be.

That was the final home preseason game for Concord, as away trips to Maldon & Tiptree and Harlow Town were to round off the preparations for the coming season. At Maldon & Tiptree the Beachboys were once again able to keep a clean sheet, their 4th in a row and 5th of the preseason, and win by a goal to nil. Harlow Town were able to keep a clean sheet against Concord, as the game finished 0-0 on Saturday, and this meant that the final preseason record was 6 wins, 2 draws and 1 loss. Solid form which to me displayed the fact that the team are ready to go into the regular season on a roll.

As previously mentioned, there are different ways to take preseason results considering the trialists and new signings, and the quality of the opposition. But with all that in mind I think that the squad Danny & Glen have put together, along with the addition of Nicky Cowley to the coaching staff with established goalkeeping coach Danny Clare, it’s promising stuff for the coming year. The players that have stuck around from last season have shaken off their rust of the summer and impressed in the lead up to the season. The main standout really has been Tony Stokes, recently made captain due to his performances in the middle of the park in preseason, the responsibility seems to have galvanised him and brought out an extra 5-10% of effort and drive. Steve King still looks solid at the back, and Lee White seems to have come back a lot stronger. James Elmes has recovered well from his nasty ankle injury suffered against Canvey last year, whilst Reece Harris looks sharp and pacey alongside him in the midfield. Up front, I’ve already mentioned Stokes, and Harry Elmes looks ready to go when I saw him play. Promising young midfielder Sammy Knott has been loaned to Great Wakering (managed by former Beachboy Dan Trenkel) in order to get him ready for first team Ryman League football.

The new guys have been a revelation too, bringing some experience and youthful talent to the Concord squad. Michael Jordan has been impressive so far in goal, no dodgy decisions made yet, and long may it continue! Danny Glozier has returned after a year away and has been menacing at the back, and not just because he’s lost loads of weight and scares the crap out of anyone who looks at him! The experience of John Easterford has already helped shape the back line into the force it will clearly be this season, whilst the addition of Billy Coyne to replace Ashley Miller (who left for Canvey) has been inspired. Coyne has barely stopped when I’ve seen him play, going forward well and being impressive at the back. Danny Spendlove scored against Southend, and has been impressive as well, except for his dodgy hair band, no respect for that one! Another addition to the midfield has been James White, who is a big, strong player, towers above some of the other guys and has a very good awareness of the game and of what’s going on around him. Both Chris Bourne and Jacob Cleaver have been determined additions to the midfield, both showing fantastic fitness and composure when notching up their goals. Up front Jason Hallett has come in with enthusiasm and drive, dropping weight and becoming a great preseason pick-up. Already establishing himself as a possible starting striker, my money would be on him to notch up a fair few goals over the year; he’ll have something to prove to his previous club (the dodgy lot down the road at Park Lane).

That’s a quick take on the players we’ve now got at Concord Rangers, pretty positive all round to be honest, but you never know how the lads will truly do until the regular season begins next week! I’m optimistic, the team are confident, all that’s left now is to get the season started!

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Living My Life Online

Living life online, I remember not so long ago when spending too much time online would lead to funny looks and you being abused or derided for not being very social. Well although there is still an element of that around, as time moves forward more and more people spend more time online and it’s become so much more acceptable. And to be completely honest, I am one of those people spending more time in an online world.

Gradually as I’ve got older I have spent an increasing amount of my time online, even more so over the past year or so with twitter being the main forum for it so to speak. But it didn’t start that way, through school the extent of my net use was a hotmail email account, sending crap to my mates and vice versa! Towards the end of school and as I increased my net usage, I signed up to a forum which focused on wrestling. Now at the time I was a big grap fan, and this allowed me to meet or at least just converse with other like-minded individuals. Through that forum I met a lot of people both good and bad, a few of the good ones i still talk to a fair bit, including one of my best friends (although there have been more than a few ups and downs in that friendship over the years).

Posting on forums became a regular thing, then after some suggestions from a fellow forum member, I moved on to the next level of social networking (at the time), Myspace! That was an interesting experience, allowing for some customisation and individualism with the profile set-ups, and very early on my profile was one of the “featured” ones so my face kept popping up on the homepage prompting plenty of “adds” from both normal people and nutters! It was a similar story to the forums in that I met some great people who have remained good friends long after the Myspace page was deleted. My ex-girlfriend was met through the site (and we remain evry good friends to this day), along with the less successful ex before her, and a few other long lasting friends were also introduced there thanks to my quite open love of West Ham! Facebook though, that’s been different. Generally the people I have on Facebook are people I’ve met elsewhere in “real life” as such!

Twitter, well that has just sent things into overdrive. Thanks to the time I spend on twitter conversing with people, a lot of aspects of my life improved! Starting with my non-league football involvement, speaking with a friend on twitter got me down to Concord Rangers and watching non-league again, writing an online blog got the attention of the club chairman and the committee, allowing me to become a part of the club to a level that I could never have expected, and talking to the players online has allowed me to become mates with some of these guys. Sticking with football, previously I would go to see West Ham and just head straight to the stadium, but thanks to conversing with fellow fans on twitter, I now go early to catch up with the guys, have a few drinks beforehand and actually meet even more Hammers in the flesh. The social network has also allowed me to bridge the Atlantic and converse with Jets fans a lot more, including guys that have their own radio shows out there in the US.

Being online has also helped with my love of whisky, getting involved on the whisky social network Connosr opened up doors which as a whisky lover I could have only dreamed of. For example I was part of a tasting for an online magazine run by the guys at Connosr, I (along with the ex) was part of a group of members lucky enough to have a special tour of a distillery and taste their entire range (including a £3000 bottle), and I’ve met some hugely informed whisky writers and aficionados who I can class as friends now.

For me, living a lot of my life online has actually helped my life offline as I’ve mentioned above. It works for me, meeting people who I would never normally have bumped into, opening doors to opportunities I would never have thought of having, and just getting involved in things I would not necessarily have been able to otherwise. It also allows me to keep in contact with friends who may not be so close any more. Some people take the online life too far, but I think its pretty spot on for me given how things are. Living online isn’t a bad thing at all!

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Preseason Preparations

Pre-season can be a complicated time for football fans, now you may wonder why I say that when it should probably be the simplest of times for the sport, well I shall explain! For Concord Rangers, West Ham United and every other club at every level, pre-season is a mixture of things which mean that fans emotions can be put through the wringer even more than during the season! Now a big part of preseason is to ensure that the players you have are fit and match ready after a summer off work. The clubs want to see that their players have not overdone it on holiday or had 5 too many burgers, and make sure that they will be competitive during the coming season. Fans agree with this, and want to see the best players get the run out during the games, hopefully leading to moral-boosting victories before the regular season kicks off.

In contrast, there is also the need to trial new players, young players from the youth academy or players that may not have been with a club the previous season. Bringing these players in will normally mean that the club will not be at full strength for these pre-season games, and can often lead to results (losses) that leave the team and the fans feeling disheartened. Now the majority of football fans know that essentially pre-season results do not matter in the grand scheme of things, however it’s never easy to see your team lose. Take for example West Ham, even though they fielded young, “weak” teams against Oxford and Grays, the losses there were not nice to see!

A club wants to take on teams that will challenge their own, that will provide their players with experience of different leagues and levels of talent. Concord have done that with games against Great Wakering, Dagenham & Redbridge and Southend United. The neighbours down the road, well we can’t say the same for them, as they host “Mark Wrights Team Essex” (for those that don’t know, Mark Wright is a “star” of the tv show The Only Way Is Essex). I guess different clubs take preseason games with differing levels of seriousness!

Previously I haven’t seen many pre-season games, maybe going to see West Ham once or twice over the years. However this year, as my involvement with Concord Rangers continues to grow I wanted to get a good early look at how we were progressing and how the team was shaping up for the coming season. The first pre-season game for Concord was an away trip to St Neots, who currently play in the Evo-Stick South Premier Division (the equivalent to the Ryman Prem higher up the country). Concord walked away 3-2 winners on the night, and followed that by having a young squad pick up a 1-1 draw against Bowers & Pitsea FC last Thursday night.

The first team, including some trialists, took part in their first home pre-season game last Friday against Great Wakering Rovers, who themselves are managed by Dan Trenkel, a former Concord Rangers player. Great Wakering were relegated last season (albeit harshly) to the Essex Senior League, but given how they played on the night I can see them coming back up fairly quickly. They were a solid side, well marshalled by Trenks and the coaches on the sideline, but didn’t quite have the quality to break through Concord. Now the Beachboys weren’t perfect, and gaffer Dan Cowley was quick to point out he was disappointed with aspects of the performance, however the team looked fairly fluid and I enjoyed being there (except the fact that I was torn apart by a swarm of gnats). Trialist Jacob Cleaver came on at half time and shortly afterwards managed to break the deadlock, and his well taken goal ended up being the deciding factor as the game ended 1-0.

The team were back at the Aspect Arena last night (Wednesday 25th) as they hosted League 2 side Dagenham & Redbridge. A side looking much more like the standard starting 11 took the field, putting in a determined and professional performance for most of the game. The first half hour was very even, with Concord really giving the Daggers a run for their money. However a defensive slip on the half hour mark allowed Dagenham to take the lead, and a similar error occurred soon after which gave the Daggers a 2-0 half time lead. The Beachboys came out for the second half fighting once again, and although they fell to an early 2nd half goal, it was a fairly fluid performance from the squad.

There’s still plenty of pre-season games to play, including the previously mentioned home match against Southend, but already there are positives to take towards the start of the season on August 18th. The side look like they are playing very good football, new signing Chris Bourne looked very dangerous on Wednesday night, and Tony Stokes seems to be relishing his recent role in the centre of the field as team captain. I mean, I’ve seen him play twice in pre-season and for each 90 minutes he’s barely stopped. Michael Jordan (not the basketball player) looks fairly solid in goal, and youngsters like Sammy Knott and Tyler Hubbard are showing signs of being first team regulars very soon. All in all, with what I’ve seen so far this pre-season, I am optimistic with regards to how the team will do this year!

Friday, 13 July 2012

Away Trips & Derby Days, Here Come The Fixtures!


Friday the 13th, a day of perceived bad luck, maybe that’s why the people behind the Ryman Isthmian league chose this date to unleash the upcoming seasons fixtures onto the teams and fans? Anyway, the day of fixtures being released is an exciting one for teams and fans alike, both looking to see who they open the season against, who they will take on to end the season, and of course when the local derbies will be fought! I say fought, I mean played, but some derbies can see emotions run high both on and off the pitch, as I am sure you all know!

So as a Concord Rangers fan my attention was on the release of the Ryman Isthmian Premier fixtures released at midday. This year we’ve got 6 new teams to face, 2 promoted from the Ryman South (Bognor Regis and Whitehawk), 2 from the Ryman North (Leiston and Enfield Town), and 2 relegated from the Conference South (Hampton & Richmond Borough and Thurrock). We meet a newly promoted team on the first day of the season as Bognor Regis come to the Aspect Arena, what a welcome to the Ryman Premier eh? That was my first priority, to see who our first opponents would be when the season begins on August 18th. Next was the final game of the season, as you want to be able to go out on a high, especially if you’re at home. Well after ending last season with a loss away to Wealdstone, this year we’ll be looking to end with a win at home to newly promoted Leiston.

For the Concord fans, and those of our neighbouring side down the road at Park Lane, the local derby fixtures would be high on the list of games to look out for. In both previous seasons where Concord and Canvey have met, the games have been scheduled to take place on Boxing Day and Easter Monday (however the first seasons Boxing Day game was moved due to the weather). To be honest I don’t think either club would have been too surprised when they saw the fixture list earlier, as once again the two Canvey Island clubs will go head to head on right after Christmas and on Easter.

 There are two long old road trips to be had during the season, with over 100 miles to get to both Lowestoft and Bognor Regis. The visit to Lowestoft will be the second game of the season on Tuesday 21st August, never a pleasant journey to make on a Tuesday evening after work! Bognor however will be on Saturday 2nd March, which for the fans (and more than likely the team too) will mean a bit of a weekend away, with a chance to unwind after the game in the “resort” that is Bognor Regis (can anyone say Butlins?). The away trip to Lewes last year reportedly produced a lot of unwinding, especially as it was a couple of weeks before Christmas and spirits were high! February 9th will see the lads make that trip again, maybe a calmer atmosphere this time around?

Anyway, now to round up the new guys in the league: Whitehawk (who won the Ryman South) will visit Thames Road on the 24th November; Enfield Town come to the Aspect on March 23rd; Thurrock do the same on February 23rd and Hampton & Richmond Borough make the trip to the island on October 6th. Now all the fixtures I’ve mentioned are of course subject to change for one reason or another, the weather can play a part as we’ve seen in previous years, and there is also the small matter of the cup competitions. Last year saw Concord reach the semi-finals of the Essex Senior Cup, and who knows, another cup run may lay ahead. With fixtures already announced for the 1st Qualifying rounds of the FA Cup & FA Trophy, victories could switch things around very quickly.

To confirm those cup fixtures, in the FA Trophy 1st Qualifying round Concord Rangers will make the trip to Kettering Town FC on Saturday 29th September. Now Kettering Town have had plenty of off-field issues over the past couple of seasons, but they are still a solid side and will provide a worthy challenge to the Beachboys. The 1st Qualifying Round of the FA Cup is slightly more vague, as there are 3 different teams that Concord could face at home on September 8th.

The full fixture list for the season can be found on the Concord Rangers website, but I wanted to highlight some that stood out for me and that I’ll be looking forward to over the coming months. After the past 2 seasons following Concord Rangers quite closely, I am looking forward to another successful season in the Ryman Premier, it will be a tough year without a shadow of a doubt, however there are achievable goals for the club out there. Finish above the noisy neighbours, finish higher than last year, make the playoffs, even make promotion, all are possible with the squad & football family that we have down at Thames Road. Whether we actually manage any of them, well only time will tell, one thing is for sure, non-league football is one hell of an experience and I cannot wait for the season to get underway.    

Monday, 9 July 2012

The Winds Of Change Run Through Canvey Island

As a football fan, the summer is normally the worst time for every one of us. It’s the empty space where nothing really happens until July kicks in and transfers start to get agreed and signed. But to be honest, even in the top flight with transfers it can be very quiet. Non-league though, that’s a different story. Now I’ve been getting back into non league football over the past few years, and this summer is the first where I’ve really been a part of what is happening and seen some of the stuff that goes on behind the scenes. It’s been a hell of a lot livelier than any off-season I’ve seen as a West Ham fan (well maybe except for when we signed Tevez & Mascherano).

First off there was the great news that as a team Concord had secured the services for the coming season of players like Tony Stokes, Harry Elmes, Reece Harris, Arthur Lee and Kurt Robinson. Kenny Brown, a former West Ham player, had also joined the club as an assistant manager to Danny Cowley, after Danny Scopes had decided to knock it on the head. Scopesy will still be around the club though, which is great as he’s been a big part of what made the place so welcoming to people, myself included! 2 new signings were also announced, with Guyana international Chris Bourne and experienced goalkeeper Michael Jordan (no, not the basketball legend) coming on board. James White, a solid midfielder from Thurrock FC, was also brought into the team.

One eye is always kept on the noisy neighbours down the road at Canvey Island FC, and this month has been no different. The first bit of noise from them this summer was the news that former Concord right back Ashley Miller had signed for them. Obviously this was a surprise to me and a few within the CRFC team. But to be honest, fair play to him, he’s a quality player and I wish him all the best for the future, whoever he ends up playing for when the season starts. Canvey also “signed” Adam Wickenden, Concords physio from last season. Anyway, other news down the road at the club de la King was that signings were being made over the managers head, so Glen Alzapiedi decided enough was enough, leaving his position as CIFC manager. Add to that the news that 4 players have all decided to leave as well, those being Jason Hallett, John Easterford, Steve Sheehan and Alex Rhodes.

Now I wrote that last paragraph about Canvey for a good reason! Kenny Brown didn’t stay at Concord for long, as he’s now gone on to Barnet to be their assistant manager. Best of luck to him as well! That left a hole to fill, and although Nicky Cowley has been promoted to player/coach, Concord needed an assistant gaffer. A 4 hour meeting took place this past weekend, and out of that came the appointment of Glen Alzapiedi to the position of Concord Rangers assistant manager! I think that’s a great bit of business from the club, and I am sure that Glen will add a different but positive dimension to the management team at Concord.

As for the players that left Canvey, John Easterford is one that previously played for Concord Rangers, leaving in 2010 to go across the Island. Well I for one am happy to say that he has seen the light and made the short trip back across to the Aspect Arena to play for Concord once again. A starting CB for Canvey, he’ll be sorely missed by them and greatly appreciated by us! Welcome home John! It wouldn’t surprise me if more make the move across either, given the perception of the state of affairs over at Canvey, I don't hold high hopes for them! Given the calibre of the players leaving, can anyone say sinking ship?

Preseason training is already underway, and before the season starts in earnest I can see a lot more twists and turns coming for the teams on the island. The fixtures will be out on the 13th July, and I know my first looks will be towards the first & last games, and of course the derby games against Canvey! Non league football is a fantastic thing to be involved in, even just as a fan; I would not change a single part of it! You Are My Concord!

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Remembering The Lost - 7/7

It’s not quite the 7th yet, but after seeing tweets regarding a program on the events of 7/7 last night, it got me thinking about what happened on that day 7 years ago. It was a horrific day for London and the people who are a part of it, many were killed and thousands more were affected in some way by it. It’s a day that will continue to live on in the memory of everyone who played a part, whether you were travelling on the tube nearby, whether you were at work, or whether you were just watching at home.

Me, well I remember how the day went fairly clearly. It sticks in my mind as I was based at Fenchurch Street station along with my mum and my brother! That morning my mum was at Fenchurch, and my brother was at Limehouse, both on the early shift, whilst I was due to start at 2 for the late shift. I was 21 years old, a temporary supervisor, having stepped up for 6 months, and plodding along nicely. That morning I got a message from a friend of mine, Lucy, about what had happened, and I spent the majority of the morning in front of the TV wondering what the hell had happened to my city.

Obviously my first thought was to get in touch with mum or Stephen, and thankfully I was able to as the landlines were working fine. Mum reassured me that although a bomb had gone off at Aldgate (literally just around the corner from Fenchurch Street) they had only heard a noise but not been otherwise affected. Stephen was working hard at Limehouse getting people moving and away from London (I actually remember him getting positive comments from customers regarding the help he provided there!). Whilst watching the news, I spent a lot of time texting with Lucy, talking about how worried I was that I had to work that afternoon, and that my family had been close to the whole thing. At the time that was all I could think about, but as the day went on it really dawned on me how many people were affected by these horrid events and the toll this would have on the people of London.

The tube network essentially came to a halt, and a lot of stations within London closed, stopping all services as part of the security response to what had happened. To say that I was nervous and scared when going in for my afternoon shift would be an understatement. But I got there, gave my mum a hug (as to be expected really) and cracked on. The service was bumped up and trains increased in size that day as the amount of people passing through Fenchurch Street heading out of London was unbelievable. Passengers were approaching us saying that they were unable to get out of London due to the station closures and that for a period of time we were the only ones still moving. And move is what we did, I remember filling trains up and sending them out early just to get people going, and some of the destinations these people had originally planned to go to were across the other side of the country! The crowds piled up outside the station, and the whole area at the front was jam packed with passengers wanting to travel. For anyone who has seen that front area you know that there is a lot of space there to fill.

Things eventually calmed down around 7, with London pretty much evacuated at least from what we could see. It was one hell of an emotional day, with so many people affected by the mornings events. Me and the guys at the station were just a minute part of it, but we knew we had done what we could that afternoon. At the time, and still now, my thoughts went out to all those people that were affected by the events of the day, huge credit to the emergency services and the tube/bus staff that dealt with the situations as they unfolded, my respect for these people was at an unbelievably high level. Even now, going back over the newspaper clippings that I saved from then it brings a lump to my throat. Again, huge respect to everyone who did a spectacular job on that day, it wasn’t easy and so many of you did London proud with the way that the events and aftermath were handled.

More importantly, RIP to those innocent people who lost their lives on what was one of Londons most tragic days. You remain in our thoughts always.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

They just keep getting churned out!

Blogs, something i tend to do whenever the feeling hits, which generally is every few weeks or so! anyone who wishes to read this stuff on a regular basis, well i suggest following me on twitter (@Bulljet) as that is just a mini version of these blogs really! Anyway, last time i was typing away here, it was talking about what a day i had at Wembley for West Hams playoff victory. So you can see, regularity is not my strong point with these!

Plenty seems to be going on lately, and it just makes you think that you need to get off your arse and do something about it. Take for example my home life, mum's partner has moved in, and no question he has made the whole place more miserable. Mum doesn't seem to see it, but its petty and winds us up the wrong way. In the space of a week, he pissed off all 3 of us, well to be honest it was even less than that! Of course this has led to my mum getting left out, as we all stick to ourselves even more now. Anyway the point is that its woken me and Ben up, we know we need to start getting a move on, quite literally actually! We both earn decent wages, and need to look at how much a mortgage can get for us.

All that waffle for one little point at the end, i know i can go on a bit in these things! Other than that, work is getting busier and busier, more test events and preparations for the Olympics going on, which just means more people are worrying and causing hassle! I've said it before and I'll say it again, the sooner the Olympics are done, the better!

That would normally lead me on to some stuff about sport, but as the main seasons i follow are all out at the moment, there ain't much to say about it. Of course there has been the European Championships, but i think anyone who has watched it would know its not worth talking about!

This past weekend i was back in Blackpool for the 3rd time in as many years playing Darts in the Railsport Games. It was a heavy weekend, a lot of drinking was done, and a lot of laughs were had. But to be honest the details are best kept to those that were there! What happens in Blackpool, stays in Blackpool :-)

That was just a quick catch up of things, ideas have been flooding in today as to what to write about, so don't be surprised if another load of waffle appears here over the next day or two, got some whisky bits to jot down soon too! I know, i can sense the anticipation! Thanks for reading if you've managed this far!

Thursday, 31 May 2012

We're The Famous West Ham and We Went To Wembley!

Its been well over a week, but i thought it was about time i got the experience down in a blog. Wembley Stadium, the home of English football, and for 90 odd minutes on Saturday 19th May, home to the dreams of 40,000 West Ham fans.

First, some background, this time last year the Hammers had been relegated from the Premier League after a dismal season, optimism wasn't great, but after a new gaffer was appointed in Big Sam & signings were made, we were one of the favourites for automatic promotion when May arrived this year. Obviously that wasn't to be, and the playoffs beckoned. After a 5-0 aggregate demolition of Cardiff, the first date at Wembley for West Ham was made since the League Cup final loss in 1981.

Now clearly i wasn't there in 1981, and i didn't get to Cardiff on our 3 recent appearances there, so i was hoping for a chance to experience what would obviously be a rare day for the club at the national stadium. Not being a season ticket holder or member worked against me though and i took it as a given i had failed to get a ticket. But a lifeline presented itself in the shape of a Facebook message from Mark, who i know online through his sister Adie (who i also met online, there's a pattern to my life here). Well Mark came through with a spare ticket, and i became i giggling little schoolkid at the prospect of going to Wembley to see West Ham!

The day arrived, and it started as it should of, with breakfast down kid local cafe at 8am! I had seen on Twitter that the Globe pub at Baker Street would be a meeting place for drinks before the game, so i promptly arrived at opening time (10am). Match tickets had to be shown to enter, but thanks to some sweettalking, i was in along with some fellow Twitter Hammers. Our group grew as the morning went on, and the atmosphere became electric at times. Every tourist bus that came past the pub was treated to renditions of Bubbles, or Stick ya blue flag up your arse. So polite eh!

Mark arrived around midday with my ticket, prompting much relief from myself! And after another drink it was time for the train journey to Wembley! The walk down Wembley way alongside so many Hammers was an experience all in itself, felt chills as the big arch approaches! Still a bit early for the game though, so we found a bit of greenery outside an old office block & sunk a few tins whilst catching up with more Hammers :-)

Then it really began, getting into the stadium and finding my seat, getting ready to see the teams come out, and singing Bubbles at the top of my voice. 40,000 Hammers were in our end of the stadium, and the noise was simply amazing. I can't remember every detail of the game, but i know it was tense! A quality goal from Cole sent us into jubilant screams & cheers, easing some fears and nerves!

The second half started with a gut punch as Blackpool equalised, and that led to a very tough end to the game. Both teams had chances, and honestly Blackpool were unlucky not to make the most of them. It was to be a Claret & Blue day though, as with 3 minutes left Vaz Te smashed in a rebound from Coles shot to give us the lead. Emotions were running high now, we were jumping around, screaming, cheering, and the kid in front of me was in tears of joy! Didn't take long for me to join him to be honest, as the final whistle went i had tears in my eyes, for the achievement of the club, for being there, and for a dearly missed friend who would have loved to have been a part of that moment.

After the presentation, the journey home began. I didn't care how long it took, i had a smile on my face and nobody could take that away from me. It had been West Hams first day at the new Wembley, and i had the honour and pleasure of being a part of it! A day that no Hammer there will ever forget, now bring on the Premiership!

Sunday, 6 May 2012

A Beachboy Review, (Concord Rangers, not the band)

Anyone who has read my previous blogs would know that I have more than a bit of love for my local non-league team Concord Rangers, and this past season was their second in the Ryman (Isthmian) Premier League. In previous blogs over the season I’ve mentioned the history of the club, and the rivalry with fellow Ryman League members Canvey Island FC. Well today I just want to go over the experience I’ve had as part of the club, and that’s a key thing to be honest, even as a fan I have felt part of the club!

The start of the season wasn’t great to be honest, after an excellent 2010/11 season debuting in the Ryman Premier, there was the worry of the second season slump that many promoted teams seem to encounter, and that’s throughout the league system. The Beachboys had to wait until their 10th league game for their first win of the season, this coming at the expense of Horsham, who were to go on to get relegated from the Ryman Premier.

The next victory came in the Essex Senior Cup, a competition that turned out to be a great ride for the Concord lads. The first victory was at home to Southend Manor, being the first home victory of the season in any competition. The cup competition was tough, as Concord were away in the next round to Chelmsford City, however on a Monday night in late November they secured their place in the next round with a 4-1 win. I was at the quarter final match just 5 days before Xmas against Grays, and it was a great night to be honest! Concord came away 3-2 winners at the end of it, after Grays put up a late fight, but this set up a semi-final encounter with Colchester United of League 1 in February. Utd put out a strong side, with a number of first team players, and it showed as they ended our cup run with a 4-0 victory. This was twice as heartbreaking as the winners of the other semi-final were local rivals Canvey Island, and an all-Island final would have been something to behold!

Anyway back to the league, and it was on a Saturday in mid-November when Concord picked up their first win of the season at home, scoring a late goal against Harrow Borough to win 1-0. Being there for the game was an experience I wont forget, with the goal going in and the sheer jubilation being expressed from the home dugout and those of us around it! Things then started to fall into place, with the Beachboys winning 6 of their next 8 matches to climb the form table and show some of the class that was on display last season.

Big home victories against Bury Town (4-2) and Horsham (5-0) kept the good run going as the second of the season derbies against Canvey Island began to approach on the horizon. A quick note about Horsham, at the time they were being managed by Hugo Langton and although the team were right near the bottom of the league, he was doing what he could to make sure they played football the right way, and he came across as a decent fella as well. He has since parted company with Horsham, and it was amazing to read what he went through there. Best of luck to him for the future.

Concord continued to be high up in the form table, closing in on Canvey Island and even for one week overtaking them in the league, however as Easter approached, it became clear that a decision as to the way the league would finish would happen in the derby. Now Concord had won the previous 3 encounters, 1-0, 4-0 and 2-0, maybe it was about time Canvey got something, and that they did as goals coming quickly after the start of each half gave them a 2-1 win. As gutting as this is to admit, the result seemed to end the Concord season. The playoffs were out of reach, and we went on to lose the following 4 games to finish the season in 14th.

I spent the final day of the season with the team on the coach trip to Wealdstone FC, and also was there for the presentation night that evening. I mentioned being part of the club, and if anything the last day of the season really hammered that home. A great day, even with a loss, but from the chairman, through the committee, the managers and players down to us fans, it’s a family atmosphere down there. I’m certainly looking forward to next season!

Season's Over, But Not Quite Finished

It’s that time of year when the football season comes to an explosive end, the cup finals are there to be enjoyed and the playoffs provide both excitement and tension in the lower leagues. You reflect on the ups, downs and floods of emotions that have come the way of the fans over the months since it all kicked off back in August. And that’s pretty much what I’m doing here, nothing too in depth, but enough to reflect how things have gone!

The Championship, the old 1st division, and the old 2nd division before that, this was where the Hammers would be playing their games after what can only be described as a disastrous relegation season the previous year. Big Sam Allardyce was brought in as the manager with the one objective simply being to get the team back up. A shake up of the team ensued, and optimism was actually fairly mild, at least from my perspective going into the season! And things didn’t start too well either, as we lost at home to Cardiff, which was a glimpse at how our home form would be over the year! Away form though, well that was a different story, with 1-0 and 4-0 victories away to Doncaster and Watford respectively, that highlighted the freedom that the team were to play with away from Upton Park.

The results were fairly varied though through the first half of the season, big wins at home to Blackpool & Leicester were negated by single goal losses to Ipswich, Burnley and early leaders Southampton. Cup runs were in my mind best to be avoided so that we could focus on the league, much like the old saying after any team gets knocked out of a cup! Thankfully the team must have felt the same way, as we didn’t last in either the League or FA cups for very long! November was a solid month so and solidified our place in the automatic promotion spots after 4 wins from 5.

Even though the next couple of months were fairly stressful for the Hammers faithful with inconsistent results both at home and away, we maintained our push for automatic promotion, at least which was until the month of March. Reading were a team on one hell of a run, they were slowly but surely getting good results, notching up points after points, and creeping up the table, but at this time they weren’t really on our radar. The thing that West Ham fans were worried about, and some were very angry about, was the run of 5 consecutive draws, 4 of which were 1-1!  It was then that Reading made their intentions known, taking 2nd in the league after beating us 4-2 at home and leaving us languishing in 3rd, destined for the playoffs if things didn’t turn around.

The run-in through April was full of pressure, but our destiny had been taken out of our hands by the events of March. Hoping for other teams to drop points is never a good thing to have to do to be honest! Reading kept up their good run of form, and managed to oust Southampton at the top of the league. Big moral-boosting victories against Barnsley and Brighton helped the league come down to the final day, with West Ham needing a Southampton loss and a victory against Hull to make the automatic promotion slot. We did our job by beating Hull 2-1, but Southampton thumped relegated Coventry to claim 2nd spot and condemn the Hammers to the tension and stress of the playoffs.

So, it’s nearly all over, just the playoffs to negotiate for the Hammers, and for Big Sam to fulfil his remit of getting us back up into the Premiership. Thursday was the first leg of the Playoff Semi-finals against Cardiff, and we played very well to walk away 2-0 winners in Wales. Now the focus turns to Monday afternoon and the home leg, the pressure is well and truly on! Wembley beckons for the winners, and a final match-up against either Blackpool or Birmingham.

Honestly, I may not have agreed with the tactics we’ve used at times throughout the season, or the substitutions or team line-ups. But I have to admit, when it’s counted we’ve picked up the results, and it’s better to be in the playoffs than not be even in with a chance at promotion. A possibility of 2 games left until the season truly ends for us, fingers are well and truly crossed! COYI!

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Slacking off!

What can i say, i seem to be getting a bit slack with blogs lately, i wish i could say it was because i am busy, but i recently had 8 days off work so i can't really use that excuse! Plenty has been going on though, and i thought it time to share that with your good selves!

We'll get the boring bit out of the way first, work! With less than 100 days till the London Olympics everything is go at the moment, which in a way is great as there's no dull moments, but it can get a bit much at times. I've said it before & I'll say it again, sooner the Olympics are over the better! One bonus though is the focus on my dept has improved our conditions, we've got support, & a pay rise coming too!

I started spending some of the upcoming cash recently, as previously mentioned i had 8 days off work starting Easter Monday. Now that day saw the 4th Canvey Island non-league derby take place. Now although Canvey beat Concord for the first time, it was a good day & it was a great laugh in the bar afterwards drinking & chatting to the players & fans of both clubs. Speaking of Concord, our form has slipped a bit lately, but this weekend is the final game of the season, and it promises to be a great game followed by a top notch presentation evening! Depending on the events of that day, it might require a blog all to itself!

Back to my recent leave, and i had the pleasure of catching up with a couple of good friends. First the ex, still remaining friends which to me is a good thing. Had a decent meal & got updated on various goings on with family & work. Then i played a bit of snooker (and won) with an old school friend. She won 1 frame but i walked away overall winner which was what mattered! Partook in a couple of alcoholic beverages too which i will blame for losing a frame! Also did the whole tourist thing in London for a day or two with another old friend, which i really enjoyed. I say it every time but living near London you take it for granted and you don't tend to appreciate what we've got on our doorstep until you really take the time to look at it!

Honestly though, either in or out of work, i am pretty happy with how life is going at the moment, ain't got any major complaints and am enjoying everything that comes my way!

I am going to leave it there for now, mainly because i want to go into detail on West Ham, Concord, the Bulls & Jets, but that's another blog to be filled. Thanks for reading if you've made it this far!

Saturday, 31 March 2012

March Madness

Over in the states there is a period of College Basketball called March Madness, this highlights the end of the season and the huge knockout tournament that takes place to determine the NCAA champs for the year. I mention this as I have found March to be particularly hectic with a lot going on both personally and in the sports I follow, hence that being the title of this latest blog entry.

For me it’s been all over the place this month, starting with Darts doubles tournament in the league I play in. I was paired with fellow team member Luke, and after a shaky start we won our opening round match quite easily. It all fell apart in the 2nd round though, as we were drawn against two other members of our own team! We went into the match far too settled and ended up losing, but it was still a good night all the same. I reckon Luke’s mind was elsewhere though, as the following Monday he flew away to get married! Anyway the darts “action” continued through the month, with the final league game taking place and us winning 7-3 on the night. This was a huge result for the team, as it guaranteed us 7th spot in the league of 9 and gave us our 5th win of the season (4 more than last year).

One week later and I was back on the oche, this time for charity. A friend of mine, Paul Hill, is running the marathon and raising money for Macmillan Cancer Research, and part of the fundraising was a Darts tournament. This is where I stepped in, taking part in the raffle (winning some new darts in the process) and playing in the competition. Last year myself and my brother Ben were knocked out of the group stages, however this year it was a pure knockout format, where one poor game could end your night early! I won’t go into the finer details, but after a series of tough matches me and Ben walked away as champions! Both of us were truly buzzing, the first time either of us has won anything of substance in darts, and the grins on our faces were there for all to see. You may have even seen the pictures on my Facebook or twitter pages!

Work has also been busy, with plenty of incidents kicking off to keep us occupied! Add to that a few days of training up in Preston and a couple of Olympic test events and you can see why I say it’s all part of March Madness! The most surreal day at work though was this past Thursday, and the morning couldn’t have been more different to the afternoon. First thing I was showing some company directors around our control room where I am based, which I always get nervous about. But the afternoon, well I had been asked to help in the filming of a safety video for our operations department, “acting” as a bouncer! Well I did so, which took me to Chislehurst of all places. There I met the crew and both Barry from Eastenders, and one of the original guys from the Mr Muscle ads! Bit surreal to be honest and it got even more so when the cafe we were filming in happened to be the local of Frank Maloney! I got pics done with all the guys, but wont be coming until the filming etc is all done in a couple of weeks though. I never thought that when I joined the railway that I would end up doing that with those people around me!

Sport has been just as manic, with West Ham causing plenty of stress after going on a 7 game drawing streak! A big win against Cardiff early in March set us off well, but the large amount of draws have left the next few games as the most vital of the season. Thankfully a win midweek against Peterborough has helped turn the tide. Concord Rangers are still on a decent run within the Ryman Premier League, picking up some fantastic results during March, including a 6-0 win at Tooting! The playoffs are within sight, and the noisy neighbours of Canvey Island are looking over their shoulders as a 19 point gap has been reduced to 3! Madness is probably an understatement for what was going on in New York though, as the Jets put a trade in for a QB who quite simply divides opinions across the NFL. Tim Tebow is classed by many as a gimmick QB, whilst some think he’s the best thing to happen to the NFL in years, well the Jets, led by Mike T and Coach Ryan, thought he would be a great addition to the team. I refuse to pass judgement just yet, but I am sceptical to say the least. I guess we’ll see what happens when the season starts! As for the NBA, well the Bulls are winning even without star man Derrick Rose, so there isn’t much to worry about there!

Whisky is something I love, and anyone who knows me knows that! Well last weekend I was lucky enough to attend my 5th Whisky Live festival in London. Much like in previous years I went with some good friends, and was able to catch up with some top whisky friends as well. I ended up trying around 25 different drams, purchasing 3 fantastic bottles. I could go into detail about which whiskies were my standouts, but to be honest that would be a blog all on its own rather than a small part in this one!

That’s it for now, I write this as a round-up of March really, but I know there is still more than a few hours left to go before April takes hold. If you’ve read down this far, then I must say thank you for reading!

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